Joe Harper has talent but no drive. Others believe in him, but he lacks that crucial element – believing in himself. His life is a catalog of missed opportunities. October Harpo is an artist who embraces every aspect of human existence, seizing it and honoring it by unearthing the beauty within, the art. She is passionate and throws herself into her art with intensity and abandon that amplifies Harper’s lack of both. October wants Joe to see himself as she does, to be who he really is. Will he allow himself the life that destiny laid at his feet the moment he walked into October’s studio?
Sorrow has the emotional feel of a lyrical poem disguised as a novel. Its cadence remains fluid and familiar – don’t we all struggle with the issue of following our hearts, of letting self-doubt win out over hope? There are pieces of Joe and pieces of October in each of us. Author Tiffanie DeBartolo echoes those refrains in Sorrow, creating a work that is full of meaning while also being a pleasure to read. We’re thrilled to interview Ms. DeBartolo about her beautiful novel.
Amy Wilhelm: Joe Harper, the protagonist of Sorrow, is an immensely talented musician who doesn’t seem able to follow any of his dreams. How did his self-doubt become stronger than his desire to be happy?
Tiffanie DeBartolo: That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Why do any of us sacrifice what we want? Insecurity. Fear. We don’t think we deserve it. We’re afraid of what others will think. We’re trying to do “the right thing”, or please our parents or society at large. It’s too emotionally risky. I think there are a lot of reasons why people cop out of their lives, and that’s what Joe did, essentially. He abandoned himself, abandoned his spirit.
It takes a lot of courage to put your heart on the line, stay true to yourself, and do what you really want to do in life.
And I think the question you asked is one that I was curious about when I started writing this book. That is, why would anyone as talented as Joe forsake himself like that?
AMW: The importance of music and art are strong themes in your novel and are protagonists in their own right. Beethoven believed music could change the world, and the artist in your story, October Danko, believes art can transform you for the better. What do you believe?
TD: I have strong opinions on this subject because I know people who don’t believe in the power of art and music to change the world, but I’ve been changed by art and music. I am an infinitely better human for having music in my life. I can narrow that down even farther and say I’m an infinitely better human for having U2’s music in my life. That band changed me. Or maybe their music just awakened the spirit that was inside of me all along, nevertheless, there’s a connection that happens between a person and a song or a painting or what have you that connects them to their humanity, to love, and being connected to our humanity and to love is what teaches us about compassion. How badly does this country need to tap into our humanity and compassion right now?
So, anyone can tell me until they’re blue in the face that art and music can’t change the world, but I’m living proof that they’re wrong. It changes me every day.
AMW: The installations October creates are thoughtful and intense. What were your inspirations for her inspirations?
TD: I remember finishing this book and then taking a couple of weeks off from looking at it, to gain some perspective, in order to go back and start shoring it up into a legitimate first draft, and I remember coming back to it and reading over all of October’s installations and thinking, “Where the f**k did I get that?” This is my favorite thing about writing, about the beauty and mystery and magic of creating—sometimes it comes from a place so deep in our subconscious, it surprises even the creator. I mean, if I had more free time I would probably be a performance artist. I’d love to recreate, in real life, some of October’s exhibits.
AMW: The character of Joe Harper brings to the fore the time-honored debate between the influence of nature versus nurture on one’s life. If both nature and nurture lay the blueprint for our potential, how can we tip the scales so that our self-nurturing gains dominance?
TD: Oh boy. Another million-dollar question. I love and appreciate your thoughtfulness, Amy, and feel like we’d have a lot to discuss over coffee. LOL. At any rate, I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer this question. All I have is my measly little unprofessional opinion. But I think at various times in our lives both nature and nurture work for us and also against us. However, what comes to mind as I’m pondering the subject, and this may be a huge tangent, is plant medicine. I’ve recently done some therapeutic and shaman-guided work with ayahuasca and psylocibin, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned on these journeys it’s that our spirits are pure, and they know the truth—they know what our hearts want and need. And that’s really what we’re talking about here. Being true to ourselves. Nurturing ourselves. Following our true nature and bliss. So, maybe I’m saying magic mushrooms are the answer? (Laughs.)
AMW: What do you hope Sorrow evokes from its readers? In your mind, what would be the best result of having written this novel? On a more general note, why do you write?
TD: First and foremost, I hope that people enjoy the book—that is, I hope they are captivated and entertained by the story and the characters. But on a deeper level, I hope Sorrow helps them ask some big questions. If I could inspire even one person who may be feeling unhappy or dissatisfied in their life to take a closer look at themselves and then decide there’s something more fulfilling out there for them, then I will feel like what I do is worth it. But the truth is, the reason I write is tied into all of these questions. I write because I’m called to write. Because I have a deep, aching need to explore and understand myself and the world around me, and a deep need to express my thoughts and feelings—not because I think they’re particularly interesting or important—but because setting them free is important to me, to my growth and evolution as a human.
Life is hard and confusing a lot of the time, and writing, for me, is my attempt to make sense of it.